OWYN (Only What You Need) is a plant-based line of protein products. I recently picked up a shitload of their items because I was looking to try something new for high protein, low sugar and high fiber drinks, snacks and coffees. I know, I know… What the fuck is Johnny Prime doing with plant-based shit? Clearly I don’t give a fuck about ANY of that shit. But if it tastes good, I’m in! I DO eat vegetables, you know… Anyway here’s what I got:
Protein snack bars, protein coffee, protein drinks, and protein powder. Let’s start with the protein coffee.
I love this shit. This is now part of my morning routine.
The flavor is great, it gives me a little caffeine boost without being all jittery.
Next up, the snack bars:
As you can see, I got a shitload. These, in combination with a protein drink, are meant to be my lunch at work (since I eat like an unhinged maniac during most dinners) or an occasional sack after dinner if I’m still hungry. Here is a closer look at the flavors:
They’re mainly made up of seeds and natural plant protein isolates, like pea powder, pumpkin seeds, chia, etc. But they don’t taste like rabbit food, and the flavors aren’t too sweet or overwhelming. They’re just right.
The ready-to-drink protein shakes are awesome.
Vanilla is my least favorite of the three, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad flavor by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just that the chocolate and strawberry/banana are better, in my opinion.
I’ve tried the powder once before; it was a coffee flavor. The vanilla and chocolate are better. They taste just like the pre-made shakes.
I totally stand behind these products. I think you’ll like them if you’re into this sort of stuff, regardless of the plant-based marketing. Give this shit a shot. If they can satisfy a rabid carnivore like me, I’m fairly certain they have an excellent product on their hands.
It’s been a year since I started getting more deeply involved with beef industry professionals and writing posts that advocate on their behalf. One thing I’ve noticed is that lots of people don’t realize how many different professions are involved in the beef industry.
It’s not just farmers, butchers and chefs. It starts, of course, with the animals themselves, the cattlemen that raise them, and the farmers that grow their food.
Like humans, cows have a nine month gestation period. For the first few months, a calf is raised on its mother’s milk (colostum – for key nutrients and immunity). After maybe six or eight months, a calf is weaned off of mother’s milk and put out to pasture. At that time decisions are typically made about whether the animal will be sold off or kept for breeding.
The feed yard is typically the next location for the animal (when the animal is about a year old). This is where they get fattened up for market.
Grain finished animals stay in a feed yard for about 120-180 days. The grain mixture they eat is typically representative of local agriculture. For example, in California there may be almond hulls mixed in with the standard corn or wheat. In New York, there are sunflower seeds mixed in. In Idaho, there is some potato mash.
Grass finished animals stay on pasture or hay for seven or eight months longer, on average, than grain finished animals. They do not eat grain. It generally takes longer for them to get to market weight.
After that, it’s off to the slaughter they go, where we have people who work at processing plants for slaughter and packing. The Humane Slaughter Act of 1958, updated in 1978 and 2002, governs how all of this is done.
At the packing plant, the beef product is broken down into primal and sub-primal cuts:
Primal: chuck, rib, round, loin.
Sub-Primal: bottom round, top round, eye round, round tip.
Then, the meat is shipped off to grocers, butchers, restaurants and other end-user locations, ultimately ending with diners like you and me gobbling up all of that delicious meat.
Veterinarians, animal care specialists, scientists and government inspectors are present at each step during this process, from farm, to feed yard, to slaughterhouse, to distributers, to grocers, restaurants and butcher shops. And, of course, law makers and beef industry professionals have helped put together all of the guidelines and regulations that govern and run the industry.
It’s a very complex and well-monitored process, so don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that beef is somehow unsafe. The industry also provides for countless jobs, and that stimulates the economy. Last, and most importantly, they all help to put steak on our dinner plates.
A whole crapload of unnecessary freaking out has happened over ranchers’ use of antibiotics in the raising of animals for human consumption. While some of the alarmist stuff out there might sound scary, in reality it isn’t. So I feel the need to ease some tensions here with this beef advocacy post.
The judicious use of antibiotics is the humane thing to do for animals that are in need of care. Just like humans, animals need help every so often to fight off a bug. When sick, their ears droop, they cough and have runny noses. They separate from the herd and go off by themselves. Some diseases can be avoided through the use of vaccines, and illnesses can be prevented and combated with the use of vitamins and antibiotics.
By law, producers must wait a certain amount of time after administering an antibiotic before an animal can be slaughtered for consumption, to ensure that no traces of the antibiotic remain within the animal. These “withdrawal times” are strictly monitored and vary from 0-60 days based on the substance being administered. That means you can be confident that there are no antibiotics in the meat you buy at stores or order in restaurants. Once the withdrawal time is tolled, that basically means the antibiotic has been completely metabolized and has worked its way out of the animal’s system.
Ranchers must carefully follow directions for administering the proper amounts of antibiotics to their animals, and the FDA tests for traces of antibiotics in meat products as well. There is a mess of paperwork, regular federal inspections and tedious record keeping involved in this entire process. It really is a tightly run ship.
Let me unpack those generalizations a bit here: Under new FDA guidelines, there are very specific, detailed measurements that are set for antibiotics in feed – authorized by veterinarians – that are called “veterinary feed directives.” These directives outline exactly how long an antibiotic can be used and which illnesses can be treated. They also specify the number of animals that can be treated.
Again, these drugs will only be used to treat, prevent and control disease with the oversight of a veterinarian. Farmers and ranchers will be required to form even stronger relationships with licensed veterinarians in order to receive authorization for the appropriate antibiotic for a specified illness, and for a specific time period. I’d say that creates a pretty well regulated and closely monitored situation.
Additionally, new laws require that little to no antibiotics given to the herd can be in the same class as human medicines. This is done to prevent any potential reduction in the effectiveness of antibiotics that are needed to treat human diseases.
Even something as simple as a vaccination carries with it a host of guidelines. For example, no shots are allowed in the hip or thigh, as this can damage the sirloin or round cuts of beef.
This is a good time for me to talk about ionophores, actually. Ionophores are a class of antibiotics that are not involved in human health because they work specifically in the rumen (a digestive organ which we do not have).
Coccidiosis is a parasitic disease in the intestinal tract of animals caused by coccidian protozoa. Ionophores combat these organisms, so they’re technically “antibiotics” from the US standpoint.
In Europe, these ionophores have a different term (anticoccidials), and are not classified as antibiotics like they are here. You may have heard that Europe has much lower antibiotic use in their beef industry. That’s misleading, mainly because Europe does not consider the ionophore to be an antibiotic.
Hormones and steroids are often used for growth promotion, digestive aids, and to prevent illness and the later need for antibiotics in a herd. Small pellets are implanted behind the animals ear, under the skin, to release these aids into the animal’s body. Many don’t realize that these are completely metabolized and no traces are found in the beef products at the point of consumption.
The FDA and USDA enforce rules on these things, and scientists have tested them for safety. Additionally, once the use of a hormone has been reviewed and approved, it’s continually re-tested, annually, and reevaluated. It will only stay on the market if it continues to pass all FDA and USDA testing. So this stuff may sound scary, but in reality it’s completely safe according to all scientific testing.
Despite these numerous safety assurances, U.S. consumer concern about using antibiotics in animal feed has led producers to create niche markets for products with specialty labels. “Never ever” means that the animal was never given an antibiotic, for example, throughout its entire lifetime. Other labels tout the fact that the animal was not given any antibiotics in the last 60 days of it’s life, or from various points of its life cycle onward (for example, no antibiotics administered once the animal is sent to the feedlot).
The USDA makes no claim about these products being safer. They are, however, more expensive to produce, and, therefore, more expensive to buy at the consumer level. Here are a few more:
Natural: minimally processed with limited additives.
Naturally Raised: No antibiotics and no hormones except for ionophores.
Certified Organic: No hormones, and raised on 100% organic feed, which means no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers were used to grow the feed.
While our beef producers are wonderful for creating new markets and catering to the odd and unique demands of a diverse population, I felt obligated to set the record straight on the issue of antibiotics with this post.
In general, the use of antibiotics is more an issue of animal health than human health, but it’s still an important topic to know about.
Remember, beef producers have a vested interest in raising healthy, safe and nutritious food, because they feed themselves and their families with the same beef that you and I eat. They understand that antibiotics are vital for the health of the herd, and administering them is a humane act to safeguard their animals.
Farmers and ranchers are dedicated to providing safe products to the market. It’s their livelihood, after all. Implementing new antibiotics guidelines and working closer with veterinarians are just a few examples of how farmers and ranchers are continuously improving the cattle industry.
There’s really nothing to worry about. US beef products are safe, nutritious and delicious. There are safeguards put into place at every step of the beef life cycle, and even afterward at the slaughterhouse and packing plant, to ensure our safety.
A little over a year ago, the World Health Organization published a finding through their International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) that the consumption of red meats represented a “hazard” and classified red meat as “probably carcinogenic.” While the craziness over that fake scare has already passed like a cow fart in the wind, I think it’s useful to talk about it here, even if just to reiterate how wrong it was.
First, I think it’s important to discuss a few things right off the bat.
Okay but seriously…
Difference Between Hazard and Risk: The IARC does not evaluate cancer risks. They only identify hazards. A risk is a statement about the probability, possibility or likelihood to cause harm, while a hazard is merely representative of a possibility to cause harm under any circumstances. It is always important to look at hazard and risk together when talking about things like cancer.
Perhaps the best way to illustrate the difference between the two is by way of analogy. Think about driving, for example. If it’s raining, we know that wet roads represent a hazard to drivers for getting into an accident (cancer). Now let’s say you’re speeding, driving with bald tires, and not using your windshield wipers after drinking a six pack of Bud. You’ve significantly elevated your risk of getting into an accident during hazardous driving conditions like wet roads.
If we apply this to beef, the IARC merely told you that the roads are wet. They identified a hazard, and nearly anything can be hazardous. Water is hazardous. It only becomes a risk when you try to breathe it, or drink it while hanging upside down or something ridiculous. So, wet roads? Maybe you walk to work, or maybe you have new tires, drive very slowly in the rain and never drive while intoxicated. As a result, your risk of getting into an accident due to a wet road hazard is very low.
See the difference, and the need to always consider both together? Of course you do, because you’re not an idiot. So when we extrapolate this to something complex, like diet or personal health, the need to assess both becomes absolutely vital. If you’re an alcoholic smoker who works around asbestos all day, never exercises, and consumes nothing but bacon grease, then chances are you’re going to die of cancer pretty quickly, because your personal risk levels are through the roof and you’re dancing around several big hazards.
Scope of Study: First, the IARC does not seem to specialize in the evaluation of food. They’ve looked into more than 1000 chemicals, mixtures, biological agents, personal habits and occupational exposures, but diet and food represent large complexities that are simply out of their realm of specialization.
Second, the IARC only categorizes things into five wishy-washy designations: Probably Not Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 4); Not Classifiable as to its Carcinogenicity to Humans (Category 3); Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 2B); Probably Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 2A); and Carcinogenic to Humans (Category 1). Aside from the fact that language like “probably” and “possibly” is arbitrary at best, only one substance has ever received the Category 4 designation of “Probably Not Carcinogenic,” and that was caprolactam (whatever the fuck that is).
They claimed that red meat was “probably carcinogenic” (Category 2A) and that processed meats were “carcinogenic” (Category 1). So what do “red meats” and “processed meats” even mean?
According to IARC, red meat refers to “unprocessed mammalian muscle meat.” This means beef, veal, pork, lamb, mutton, horse or goat meat. Yeah, you read that right: Pork is not “the other white meat.” Based on the amount of myoglobin or “stuff that looks like blood, but really isn’t blood” in the muscle tissue, pork is categorized as a red meat.
Processed meat refers to “meat that has been transformed through salting, curing, fermentation, smoking or other processes to enhance flavor or improve preservation.” In the U.S., processed meats like bacon, sausages, hot dogs and deli meats primarily contain pork and poultry, but sometimes contain beef as well.
Note that all production and processing methods fall into these definitions, and that even includes organic, grass-fed, nitrite- and nitrate-free meats, as well as conventional meats. NO ONE IS SAFE FROM THE IARC!!!
Findings: The findings are based on pre-existing research. What is that research? How can they control for external factors that may increase or decrease risk when studying human diet? Well, according to their Q&A, “In the case of red meat, the classification is based on limited evidence from epidemiological studies showing positive associations between eating red meat and developing colorectal cancer as well as strong mechanistic evidence. Limited evidence means that a positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer but that other explanations for the observations (technically termed chance, bias, or confounding) could not be ruled out.”
In layman’s terms, that means other factors could have influenced the weak positive associations between red meat and cancer, like poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, bad habits like smoking or excessive alcohol consumption, or even genetic health conditions or pre-existing diseases (think speeding, driving on bald tires, driving while intoxicated, etc). So there’s that difference between hazard and risk being played out again.
In short, don’t believe the hype!
Research has always shown that beef should be part of a healthy and balanced diet. But don’t just take my word for it; check out what some dietitians think. To me, it’s clear that the scientific evidence doesn’t show that red or processed meat causes cancer. Studies in humans are limited and inconsistent, and evidence has weakened over time. Take a look HERE for research that the Beef Checkoff submitted to the IARC. The Beef Checkoff is an organization that’s funded by farmers giving $1 for every animal produced in order to pay for research and marketing campaigns within the industry. If you think those submissions are biased for some reason (which is silly, because beef farmers and ranchers feed their families with the same beef and have a vested interest in the industry’s safety), then go HERE for independent submissions that were sent to the IARC.
Okay so what about hot dogs and bacon, the “processed meats” that were categorized as being “Carcinogenic?” If you poked around their website you may have noticed that smoking and asbestos are in IARC Category 1 as well. But on their Q&A they’ve explained that eating processed meats is not equally as dangerous as smoking – not even close, as a matter of fact. As I mentioned above, rather than assessing the level of risk, the IARC classifications merely describe hazards and potential causes.
Just one last note here on the findings: every one of us has about a 1.8%-4% chance of getting colon cancer, which is the form of cancer that many of the studies focused upon for red meat. Colon cancer is the third most common cause of cancer and cancer-related deaths. Even if the risk of colon cancer goes up 17-18% due to eating red meat, as some of the more fear-mongering studies said (and recall that some studies said there was no increased risk), it’s only about 17-18% of that 4%, or an increased risk of 0.72%. That’s only 4.72% total, if we use the worst figures we can find. The bottom end all-in figure is more like 2.1%, and again that’s only if we ignore all of the other studies that found no risk in eating red meat.
I don’t know about you guys, but even if these false-positive studies were somehow believable, I’d be perfectly willing to take on a 0.3% to 0.7% risk in exchange for a lifetime of enjoying nutritious and delicious red meat in my diet. The air I breathe here in NYC is probably way more hazardous or risky to me than red meat.
Charred Crusts: Another concern that was floating around the web was the idea that the charred outer crisp on meats that develops when the meat comes in contact with fire (like the crust of a broiled steak or the smoky crisp on a flame-kissed burger) is also cancerous.
The chemicals that form during this charring process are present on any meat that gets hit with flame (not just beef). They’re called heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH).
They are, indeed, known or suspected carcinogens. However, they aren’t present in high enough concentrations to be a real concern when grilling or cooking. I’ve known of people who charred meat to a crisp and tested the meat afterward, and the amounts of harmful chemical present were so small that they were insignificant. Concentrations matter here. There are probably harmful chemicals in the water you drink too, but unless they’re highly concentrated there’s no cause for concern.
Conclusion: Given the totality of the studies, it’s clear to me that no single food, including red or processed meats, causes cancer. So, my meat minions, beef on with confidence and pride. And go forth and continue to develop that delicious, nicely-textured crust on your steaks and burgers as well. Just don’t overcook anything, for fuck’s sake!
Before we get further into the “meat” of these advocacy posts, it’s important to lay out a few basic terms and concepts that you might run into if you’re anywhere near the beef industry.
Animal Gender Terms
Heifer: A female that has never given birth to a calf. Cow: A female that has given birth to at least one calf. Bull: An intact male that still has his family jewels. Steer: A castrated male.
Why do cattlemen castrate males? Well, it is one of three techniques used in herd management.
Herd Management Techniques
Castration: Cutting the gonads off a bull is done for two reasons: (1) to control temperament; and (2) to improve meat tenderness. This process lowers testosterone. By lowering testosterone, farmers can reduce animal aggression as well as meat toughness. Castration is normally done within the first three months of life.
De-Horning: Both males and females can grow horns unless they are genetically unable. By removing horns farmers can protect themselves and the herd from injury.
Branding: The reason farmers brand their animals is to keep better records of individual animals, and to protect and identify their herd in the open range or at the marketplace. In the old days, this would also deter cattle theft.
Generally, if things are timed correctly with calving season, these three herd management techniques are done all at once, in one quick procedure, which results in less stress for the animal.
Calves need colostrum, a nutrient-rich version of mother’s milk, because it’s packed with beneficial vitamins and natural immunizations. But after some time, it becomes prudent to ween them off their mother’s milk and send them out to eat in the pasture. In most cases it’s as easy as putting the calves on the other side of a split-rail fence from their mother; they will still be in contact with one another, but the calf will eat grass instead of milk.
Contrary to popular myths, calves are not born and then immediately rigged up to some bio-mechanical factory farm machine where they can’t move and are force-fed until the moment they are slaughtered. These are myths.
Just like humans, animals need help every so often to fight off a bug. When sick, their ears droop, they cough, have runny noses and they separate from the herd and go off by themselves. Some diseases can be avoided through the use of vaccines, and illnesses can be prevented and combated with the use of vitamins and antibiotics.
Beef Quality Assurance guidelines limit the location of vaccination shots so that the process doesn’t harm the meat by piercing valuable muscle groups. In addition, beef safety laws require no trace of the stuff to be present in meat prior to slaughter (you must wait a certain number of days before sending the animal to slaughter), and that little to no antibiotics that are given to the herd are in the same class as human medicines (to prevent a reduction in the effectiveness of antibiotics needed to treat human diseases).
Last, grain finishing allows for the animals to go off to slaughter sooner, when the animals are healthier and younger than grass finished animals.
Once again I am going to dedicate this post to dispelling some common misconceptions about the beef industry. Some of the biggest fabrications I hear these days is that the US beef industry is chock full of “factory farms,” where thousands of cattle are born and raised on feed lots, jammed into tight spaces, given nothing but grain and hormones for sustenance, and are generally mistreated and abused whilst farmers destroy the natural environment. ALL FALSE.
Most people don’t know that 97% of the 619,000 beef farms in this country are small, family owned operations with an average of 50 head of cattle. There goes the factory farm myth. And beef farming makes up about 29% of all US farms, in case you were wondering.
“Calving,” or the birthing of cattle, generally happens in a different area of the farm, removed from the feed yard, where farmers and veterinarians can more closely monitor the animals and keep them healthy. Once the calves are weened from their mother’s milk, they are put out in the pasture to eat grass and grow. Born and raised on feed lots? Screw that “bull crap.”
Cattle in the US are grass-fed in pasture for the majority of their lives. Don’t believe what you hear to the contrary. The development of grain feeding started way back, when the addition of grain into the animals’ diets was done to supplement meals for cattle during winter months and times when there were less live, growing grasses for cattle to eat. It was often mixed with stored hay silage as well.
Farmers noticed that the addition of grain to the diet caused cattle to grow faster. So today, grain is used for finishing and fattening up the cattle in the last months of their lives, prior to slaughter. This adds flavor content to the meat in addition to getting them up to a profitable weight for the marketplace. Grass finished animals (animals that only eat grass for their entire lives) take longer to get up to market weight, and are therefore older when they go to slaughter. That means they have to survive more winters and tough out more illnesses before getting to your dinner plate.
Jammed into crowded spaces? Nope. While cattle can withstand cold temperatures, farmers started using barns and other fully or partially enclosed shelters early on to shield their animals from the harsh weather in winter.
They found that cattle naturally gravitated toward one another anyway. They are social creatures. Even in pasture, when they’re out in wide open spaces, you will still see them huddled up together. Bison/buffalo do this as well. They even do it on the feedlot, where each animal has about 125-250 square feet of space, on average, in the US. Another myth bites the dust.
Now let’s discuss the environment. The US beef industry grasslands account for nearly 75% of US natural wildlife, and cattle spend a majority of their lives feeding on these natural grasslands. Up to 85% of our grassland in the US is actually not suitable for farming crops due to soil characteristics, topography, or rainfall. So cattle grazing is a good use of the otherwise inarable land that doesn’t do any additional harm. Lastly, bovine digestive systems are perfectly set up to convert the inedible plants on these grasslands into protein; beef that humans can eat!
I think that’s a good start for now. I’ll address animal care and animal health in the next BAM.
The generous folks at Beef.org offer a free set of five online course modules, after the taking of which you become an official Master of Beef Advocacy. I discovered this by poking around their website one day. After reading more about it, I decided to fill out the application.
This was an ideal opportunity for someone like me, who spends so much time thinking about, writing about, photographing and eating beef. I mean, I have the “CC” after my name for “Carnivore Connoisseur,” which is completely made up, so I figured I might as well try for the official Beef.org certification as well! It would lend a bit more legitimacy to my screeds on here, no?
Anyway, a few days later I received my acceptance letter! Soon after, I began taking the module courses. The courses are as follows:
The Beef Community: an overview of how to talk to consumers about the way beef is raised from pasture to plate. It focuses on the community of people involved throughout the beef life-cycle.
Raising Cattle on Grass: this introduces the student to the first step in the beef life-cycle and the benefits of raising cattle on America’s vast grass pasture resources.
Life in the Feed-Yard: this course is a discussion of the role of feed-yards, including animal care, nutrition and environmental stewardship or sustainability.
From Cattle to Beef: this is an in-depth look at the slaughter process and the humane handling and safety measures that are in place today at beef processing facilities.
Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner: this module is a primer on choosing and cooking the right cuts of beef, and the important role that beef plays in a healthy diet.
What you come away with from these courses is a ton of valuable information about how to address consumer concerns regarding issues like hormones, antibiotics, grass and grain finishing, GMO feed, choosing cuts of beef and cooking.
Anyone who is a big fan of steak, like me, should think about investing some time into these free courses. I’m a big proponent of knowing a lot about what you are eating. And not only are you getting a ton of info here, but you are also having various health myths dispelled in the process.
Beef most certainly IS what’s for dinner. At least in my gut anyway. And knowing what I know now, after taking these courses, I’m going to keep it that way.
My friend Matt and his Eaters Drinkers crew invited me and a bunch of other food bloggers to Gotan to sample some shakshuka, along with some other tasty egg dishes and health-conscious bowls.
I’ll start with the healthy bowls. There were two: acai and chia. Unfortunately I didn’t get to try the chia, but the acai was very fulfilling and tasty.
With this kind of flavor depth and satisfaction after eating, I can totally see how it can be quite easy to eat more healthy. Here’s the chia bowl:
Some smaller cups of the two, by the window.
Shakshuka, if you’re wondering, is a poor mans salad-like dish that hails from both Northern Africa and the Balkans and means “mixture” in Berber. Typically it is made with tomatoes (usually slow-cooked), herbs, spices and egg as the basis of the dish. The Balkan versions often have cheese (feta).
Avi did a great job explaining this to all of us, as I had never tasted the dish before. Here he is, with co-owner Melissa.
They also have a Gotan location in Tribeca, but this place on 46th is the newer addition. When renovating, they preserved some beautiful original details when chipping away to reach the original brick walls.
So we tried two shakshukas. Red and green. The red is the North African version, and the green is the Balkan style with feta cheese and tomatillo instead of tomato. My favorite was the green, as it had a bit more zip and zing to it in terms of flavor.
These dishes were all beautifully executed and plated by Chef Vicki:
The gang also sampled a bunch of other egg dishes as well:
This was a mushroom toast with root veggies and egg:
This one had chorizo, kale, butternut squash and cauliflower mascarpone:
Unfortunately I didn’t get to taste any of the egg dishes, but I did sample a ton of really unique drinks from the coffee bar (non-alcoholic): espresso spritzer with tonic water and orange zest; watermelon juice with mint; lavender water; blueberry hibiscus tea; and shakerato with candied ginger – another espresso drink.
This joint also slings a bunch of salads and sandwiches as well.
I will definitely be back here, and it’s close to my office, so may be grabbing lunch here pretty often.
I gave up drinking soda a few years back. Not completely – I’ll have one maybe once a month or something – but I cut it out when I started running and dieting and haven’t gone back. The sugar content is killer, even the natural ones like the glass bottles of Mexican Coca Cola.
But I love good a bubbly drink, and I didn’t want to give that up. Flavored seltzer became my substitute. No calories, no sugars, nada.
When my wife and I were still out on Long Island, Stop & Shop brand’s mandarin orange seltzer was my go-to flavor, and it was super cheap – usually between $3 and $4 for a 12-pack. It was more of an essence or scent of orange than a taste, but there was something in there that was orangey.
It worked to give me my bubble fix. Then I discovered La Croix at Whole Foods after we moved back to the city…
In particular this coconut flavor. It’s the Rolls Royce of seltzer. Sure, it is more expensive at between $4.50 and $6.00 for a 12-pack. But the amazing flavor that tastes real and natural. I’ve had other coconut seltzers in the past and they taste like fake coconut, if that makes any sense. And while I still enjoy the Stop & Shop brand well enough, this La Croix shit is miles beyond.
Those are a few of the things I hear pretty regularly from people who follow the blog.
“Are you Bulimic? Do you spit the food out?”
“What’s your dieting trick? Atkins?”
Those are some questions I get from people who have only met me in the past few years and have seen my loss of weight.
I figured it was time to post an official response to these sorts of questions here for all to see. I guess the best thing to do is start at the beginning:
I was always a skinny dude growing up. In fact my whole family is skinny. We are those people that everyone hates: we can pretty much eat whatever we want, not work out or exercise, and stay skinny (the women in my family might beg to differ, but that’s just how broads are). My dad, at his fattest, was 122lbs after he quit smoking and retired. I came out of high school at about 115lbs, maybe 120lbs. Coming out of college, I was the biggest in the family. I was the tallest at 5′ 10″ and heaviest at about 150lbs (I grew taller in college, by about 4 inches). At the peak of my youth, I looked like this:
Then it all went to shit. After I graduated law school things changed. My life became sedentary with the beginning of my career, sitting at a computer desk for 8-12 hours at a pop. No walking around, no fun with friends playing sports, and I was NOT the working out or running type.
My mid to late 20s hit and suddenly 150lbs became 175lbs. I wasn’t too concerned at the time. It actually felt good to have a little meat on my bones. I felt normal around people instead of being “holy shit I can see your ribs” skinny. I had just met and fallen in love with my future wife. I was comfortable, and not looking to impress anyone. Girlfriend became fiancé, and fiancé became wife (and wife became Cake Dealer). Meanwhile the steakhouse quest had started, so 175lbs became 180lbs, and 180lbs became 185lbs, then 190lbs and 195lbs… you get the picture… And I also started losing my hair! That sucked. A bald spot meant it was time to take it all down and accept being hairless. That made me bald and getting fat. Eww. A horrible double whammy. I was becoming George Costanza.
A random visit to the doctor revealed that I had high blood pressure, high cholesterol and borderline diabetes. I was put onto some blood pressure meds for a few months while I tried to diet. The timing was good here (2008-2009) because my and my wife’s wedding was approaching. I was probably around 180-185lbs for the wedding, which was in April of 2009. I had lost 10-15lbs and was generally keeping it off.
The steakhouse quest was slowed if not halted. Until two things happened: (1) a trip to New Orleans, where all I wanted to do was eat and try everything in sight. Muffuletta sandwiches, beignets, gumbo, po’ boys and all that fantastic shit.
The diet was out the window at that point. Then, (2) we moved from NYC to Long Island after the wedding in the Summer of 2009. Three hours of my day had suddenly been sucked out of existence and lost to the horrors of the LIRR commute.
The first thing to go was home cooked meals. The last thing I wanted to do at 8:00pm when I got home from work was to cook a “sensible meal,” and then clean up afterward. By the time I finished eating and cleaning it would be close to 11:00pm, and my alarm was going off at 5:00am to catch a 6:09am train. Fuck that. Fuck ALL of it.
In my defiance of all things healthy, and with a raging middle finger held high to the LIRR, I re-started the quest for great steakhouses, all the while keeping notes and a list of places to go next. In April of 2011 I decided to put my notes into a blog format, and, eventually, here we are today.
But from mid-2009 to December 31, 2013 I was blowing up like a balloon. I never thought I could be a 200lb person, yet by the end of 2013 I was pushing fucking 220lbs! What a fat fucking bastard! I’d go up a flight or two of stairs and feel winded, my heart would race, and I felt weak. I was killing myself.
So I made a New Year’s resolution to lose some weight and get in shape. My target weight, at first, was 185lbs. At my heaviest I was 218lbs, so that meant a serious effort. I was looking at BMI (body mass index) calculators to see where someone my age, height, and activity level should be, and I was shocked. To get down to the high end of the acceptable BMI range for my frame, I needed to be about 175lbs. I didn’t think I’d get there, but I did. Here’s how:
I woke up early every morning to run on the treadmill. In the beginning I was going two miles in 20 minutes. Pathetic. Eventually I was doing three miles in 30 minutes, or switching off to do some stationary bike cycling to mix it up. Still a pretty bad pace, but at least I was going for longer. I did this every day, with the exception of weekends. Once the weather got nicer I was running outside. I liked this a shitload better than the treadmill. In fact, I found that my pace was quickening, and I was going for longer distances.
I also switched my diet up drastically. I was counting calories. In the beginning I was trying to keep it well under 2000 calories per day, that way I would get the ball rolling on the weight loss. I thought of the calories like money. I had $2000 in my wallet for each day. If a candy bar cost $300, was it worth it? Or would it be better to spend that $300 on fish and a veggie, getting more food for my dollar? Lunch was typically carrots and celery, raw, with hot sauce to dip. Or pre-portioned serving sizes of nuts, dried fruit, trail mix, etc. Other lunches included Greek yogurt, or simply cooked veggies (steamed with seasoning, or sautéed in garlic and oil).
For dinner, I tried to double the veggie portion and half the meat portion, and always tried to watch the number of calories and serving size. More chicken, fish, or lean meats. Less grains, fatty meats, sugars, breads and starch. High fiber, low calorie, low carbs. I was also eating slowly. Fiber tricks your body into thinking it’s full, and it takes 20 minutes for your brain to tell your stomach that it’s full. Eat slowly and get full before you gorge yourself. Otherwise, that’s how over-eating happens.
Portion control was key though. If I needed a snack, I was hitting on nuts, dried fruit, yogurt or an occasional Fiber One snack bar – ALWAYS in the proper portion size as per the nutritional labels, and keeping my daily intake under 2000 calories. I tried to limit myself to two snacks per day: one between lunch and dinner, and one after dinner if necessary.
It was fucking tough. I was irritable at first. But I banged it out, and lost a shitload of weight in the first month; something like 25lbs. I kept this diet and exercise routine up for three or four months without changing too much up. If I ate a larger dinner, sometimes I would double up on my running for the day to shave off some of the extra calories out of pure guilt. This is analogous to working overtime to earn a little extra calorie dollars to spend.
Suddenly I was down 40lbs in four months. That meant I could normalize my diet a bit and just focus on maintaining weight instead of losing. I had hit my initial target, pretty much, but part of me wanted to push it more, to get into that “BMI” range of health and fitness. I still kept my lunches light, but dinner was pretty much a free for all (yay for steaks!). I didn’t do much snacking, but when I did, I tried to make sure I don’t go overboard.
The final pounds were the slowest to come off. My wife and I moved back to the city in the summer of 2014, so I continued my running in Central Park. Eventually I upped the daily average to five miles a day, typically in about 37-40 minutes, and only taking one day off per week instead of two. I was burning more calories, and occasionally doing ten mile runs (once a week) or even half marathons (once a month). That meant I could eat more (more calorie $$$ to spend each day), yet I was still losing weight. PERFECT! I shed even more weight. I donated all of my fat-guy clothes to charity, and broke out some of my older, skinny-guy clothing, as well as picked up some new stuff. I went from a 37 inch waist to a 32.
I currently fluctuate in my daily weight between about 168lbs and 173lbs (generally we are lighter in the mornings). So I’m down about 50lbs from the start! I still weigh myself several times per day. Constantly knowing what I weigh is important to me, because it helps me manage my weight. I’m in the proper BMI range, and I’m in the best physical shape of my life. I place no restrictions on my dinner meals. I still keep to a light lunch, unless I plan on burning more calories with a longer run that day. Snacking is still generally kept to a minimum, but I am not afraid to partake. All I do now is run and watch my lunch and snack intake, and I can eat anything I want for dinner. If I can do it, anyone can.
So what do you call this “diet” that I followed? I don’t know. It’s part Atkins, part “paleo,” part portion control and lots of good old fashioned exercise.
As for my cholesterol, I don’t know. Back in my fat-guy days, it was 169 for LDL and 259 total. As of February of 2014, which was only two months into my diet, it was down to 126 for LDL and 205 total. Improvement. No idea what it is now; hopefully much better. But I can care less.